Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rose-Colored Glasses


Or Covey-Colored Glasses, as the case may be.

I'm reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey right now. I know, I know, I'm a little late to jump on this particular bandwagon, but there it is. I'm thinking of getting another Franklin Planner. I had one years ago, but having never read the book or gone to the training or anything, I always felt like I wasn't getting what I could out of the darn thing. So I'm reading the book this time. We'll see if I still want the planner by the time I'm finished with it.

On to my point. You see, last night I read the chapter on the 1st habit, which is Be Proactive. Covey says a lot of things on the subject, but to do him a great disservice and boil down the point to one sentence, he basically defines being proactive as recognizing that, as intelligent, self-aware human beings rather than well-trained, domesticated pets, we have a choice between the stimulus and our response that dictates how we function in the world. It's a nice point and that's really all I'm going to say about it now. Feel free to read the book yourself if you like. I read the chapter and then went on with life, letting it sink into the background of my mind.

About twenty minutes later I was gallivanting around the interwebs and I came across a video called This is Water, via Wil Wheaton's Google+ post. The video is pretty good. Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait.


Okay, I'll assume you either watched the video or you don't really care and have already stopped reading this blog post anyway.

All I could think when I watched the video was "Jeez, I guess the universe is sending me a message tonight. That proactivity thing must be important."

And about twenty minutes after that, as I was trying to fall asleep, I realized that if I hadn't just read the Covey chapter when I watched that video, I might have gotten a totally different message out of it. If I'd just gotten off a bad phone call with someone and had been cruising around Google+ to distract myself and keep from saying something I'd regret, maybe I would have thought about things related to anger management. Or if I'd watched it right after going ten rounds with my toddler over bedtime, all I'd have been able to focus on would have been the mom in the checkout line. Maybe if I'd been reading a smutty romance novel, I'd have focused on that blip at the end where the guy and the girl smile at each other.

I'd seen that video as reinforcing the Covey lesson because it was fresh in my mind and I was viewing the world through that particular filter at the moment. And it reminded me, when I was thinking about it later anyway, that we view everything through our filters. Giving my characters credible filters is something I try to work on in my writing a lot.

Oh, look there, I did bring this post around to a writing point eventually.

This goes back to something I was talking about a few weeks ago with regard to making mistakes and bad choices. I'm in the early stages of two drafts right now and so motivation is a big focus. Covey may have a point about how we have choices between the stimulus and the response. But even if we recognize that we have those choices, it's also useful to remember that the options we're going to see there are limited by and skewed according to the filter we're looking through at the time. To one person, a given problem might look easy to deal with, while another might view it as nigh insurmountable, with all the choices being bad ones and only the least of all evils to pick.

It all depends on the experiences they've had and the mental place they're in right now. One of my main characters is grieving, blaming herself for the death of a friend. I know she's not to blame. I know she was set up. But she doesn't know that. She may never find that out. Even if the grief isn't something she's conscious of, it's there, impacting her, and every challenge she faces until she gets over that grief is going to be skewed by its filter.

Another character feels like she got a raw deal out of life, got drafted into a situation against her will, and she's been blaming that for her misfortunes, great and small, for a couple of decades now. So when a new character walks into her life and gets similarly drafted, she doesn't understand why he's not more upset. He thinks it's cool. He's full of youth and excitement and a sense of wild adventure. Most of the time she wants to smack him, because she starting to see every single happy thought in his head as just another example of his naiveté, mocking, however unconsciously, her jadedness.

But having the filters there isn't the tough part. If the characters are fully fleshed out, the filters are probably going to show up on their own. The tough part is showing the filters to the reader without making them obvious. You have to thread them through the story very carefully. This is especially important when the main character would be pretty unlikeable otherwise or when you need to make your bad guy relatable. That's the challenge I'm working on anyway.

So how about you guys? What filters do you make your characters view life through? Are they all wearing rose-colored glassed? Angst-colored glasses perhaps?

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